JLL should be commended for its decision this week to withdraw from managing nearly £2bn of hotel assets owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

Liz Hamson Leader

It is vital the property industry maintains its strong stance against Brunei’s implementation last month of barbaric new Sharia laws that punish gay sex and adultery with death by stoning. While it won’t hit the sultan where it hurts, JLL is reportedly forgoing fees in “the low millions” and it is an important step up from the boycotts of the Brunei Investment Authority’s ‘Dorchester Collection’ of hotels by industry heavyweights last month.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the boycott per se and it will have been the only tool at the disposal of some companies. But while it will have done reputational damage, it won’t have done material commercial damage, except to the livelihoods of the innocent, hard-working employees of the establishments affected. JLL’s move might at least make the sultan sit up and think and prompt others to review their commercial dealings with the country.

However, and it is a big however, the cynic in me wonders how long the loud cries of condemnation will last. Haven’t we been here before and quite recently at that? In the aftermath of the killing last October of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 40 attendees boycotted a major investment conference organised by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, including the bosses of JP Morgan, Siemens and BlackRock.

Fast forward a few months and JP Morgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon is personally helping to market a $10bn bond sale by Saudi Arabia state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, according to Bloomberg, and the bond offer is reportedly massively oversubscribed. Cue understandable accusations of hypocrisy.

JP Morgan won’t be the only one to have talked the talk but not walked the walk. If there is enough money up for grabs, the unpalatable truth is that many big corporations will abandon the moral high ground as quickly as they took to it. Socially responsible investment be damned.

Plus let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia and Brunei are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a host of other countries that have been accused of committing outrageous human rights violations or that operate under Sharia law. Will big business boycott the whole lot of them? Will it heck. If it does, it will only be for as long as people are watching or if it has no skin in the game.

Property Awards 2019

On a more upbeat note, last week we celebrated the best of the best in commercial property at the Property Awards at Grosvenor House on Park Lane. What a fantastic night it was and what a fantastic turnout – winners stepped up to accept their trophies in front of a capacity crowd of almost 1,100, which is pretty darned impressive given the challenging market conditions and ongoing Brexit pantomime.

A suitably diverse cast of winners included Reza Merchant, Ross Bailey, John Burns, Liz Peace and Sir John Ritblat. We also celebrated the Best Places to Work in Property. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to all those who attended – and roll on the RESI Awards on 15 May.